“Geisha Assassin” marks the directorial debut of Go Ohara, a man with a fine pedigree in the recent wave of low budget Japanese genre cinema, having worked as action choreographer on the likes of “Death Trance” and “Chanbara Beauty”. For his first film, he has stuck to what he does best with a tale of sword slinging vengeance that offers up a kinetic mix of old school martial arts and flashy modern techniques. The gorgeous Minami Tsukui makes her debut appearance in the lead role, coming up against all manner of opponents, including sexy female ninjas, crazed monks and even murderous demons. Having originally been released back in 2008, the film now arrives on Region 2 DVD via MVM.
The plot is simplicity itself, with Tsukui as Kotono, a beautiful young woman who dresses herself as a geisha and hunts down the man who killed her father when she was a child. Handily, her father was a master swordsman who had trained her from an early age, skills which certainly come in handy as she faces down waves of enemies as she steadily cuts and slashes her way closer to her nemesis. However, once she has finally tracked him down, she discovers that he was in fact one of her father’s most talented pupils, and that he had reasons of his own for the killing.
Although “Geisha Assassin” was clearly a relatively low budget production, taking place on the same familiar sets and forest location, it certainly has a more professional sheen than many of its peers, being nicely shot and making good use of its limited resources. The acting is also somewhat less grating, with Minami Tsukui solid in the lead role, adding a touch of humanity to the usual cute, tough and prone to psychotic violence heroine figure.
Whilst the script itself is bare bones, the film is short, and progresses quite nicely as she moves up through the ranks of her opponents, keeping the viewer engaged to see who or what is coming next. Ohara wisely does take a fairly grounded approach, and though the film serves up some fairly eccentric characters, none are wacky enough to distract from what is essentially a focused and streamlined vengeance crusade. The flashbacks to Kotono’s training and the death of her father are brief and well placed, and though they don’t really flesh out her character a great deal, they at least help boost the film’s genre credentials.
As should be expected from a director with a background in action choreography, the film’s main draw is its fight scenes, and on this score Ohara certainly impresses. Basically revolving around its many duels, the film really is non stop martial arts madness, and makes for energetic and exciting viewing. The action is very well handled, especially by the standards of the Japanese genre of late, with Ohara mixing in wirework, CGI and more old fashioned techniques to good effect. Although the film is fairly violent, it is not particularly bloody, though this arguably works in its favour, keeping the focus on the martial arts and swordplay rather than on gore or special effects. Ninja fans will be pleased to hear that there are plenty of acrobatic black suited killers leaping around and flinging smoke bombs and this adds a further sense of old school fun to the proceedings. Physically, Minami Tsukui is convincing enough, and unlike other female stars of similarly themed productions, actually looks like she can handle herself well.
“Geisha Assassin” is definitely one of the better low budget Japanese genre productions of the last couple of years, and should certainly be enjoyed by all martial arts fans. Go Ohara proves himself a talented director as well as action choreographer, and this lively, entertaining debut shows great promise for his future career.
Gô Ohara (director) / Isao Kodaka (screenplay)
CAST: Minami Tsukui … Kotomi Yamabe
Shigeru Kanai … Katagiri Hyo-e / Samurai
Nao Nagasawa … Kumiichi / Ninja woman
Taka Ôkubo … Toji / Priest
Satoshi Hakuzen … Go-an / Monk
Shuji Korimoto … Assassin
Kaori Sakai … Ainu woman